Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Premise: A reworking of the Peter Pan story. A pre-teen girl (Devin France) and her twin brothers (Gage and Gavin Naquin) follow Peter (Yashua Mack) onto a train and are taken to a mysterious island where they don’t grow up.
What Works: Wendy is a thoughtful and ambitious spin on the Peter Pan story. It completely reimagines the material, setting Wendy and her brothers in rural America and Neverland is less magical than other adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s stories. This version has less to do with Disney’s Peter Pan and Steven Spielberg’s Hook and much more in common with 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are. This film was directed by Benh Zeitlin, who previously helmed Beasts of the Southern Wild and its style and flavor are similar to that film. Wendy is shot with a gritty and realistic look but it is also poetic and boarders on the surreal. The filmmakers reinvent the Peter Pan story as a way of commenting on some of the themes of the myth. Most adaptations of Peter Pan are about the exuberance of youth, rebellion against authority, and posit adulthood as something to resist. Wendy challenges those ideas. In this version the children grow old when they are overcome with sadness and they are then ostracized from the lost children under Peter’s leadership. The movie has some complex ideas about getting old but also the cynicism and bitterness that sometimes accompany aging. The abandonment of the aging children is not far removed from the way the elderly are treated by society and the film’s portrait of Peter, played by Yashua Mack, is unflattering. He is a bully who is in denial about what’s actually going on and his leadership is terrible. It falls to Wendy to reconcile the adults and the children and the movie is about the struggle of growing up while holding onto the hope of youth. The film visualizes that in some beautiful sequences and it is a genuinely unique take on this material.
What Doesn’t: Wendy is not J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It uses the basic elements of that story but the filmmakers amend so much of it that the film no longer resembles anything germane to the original story. This is also not a film for children. It is doubtful that young viewers will find that Wendy speaks to them. Like 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are, this is a film about childhood rather than a movie for children. Some of the action in Wendy is hard to follow. The movie doesn’t have a lot of exposition, which suits its whimsical approach, but some of the action is clumsily edited especially in the finale.
Bottom Line: Wendy is a fascinating fantasy picture. The movie is rough around the edges and some aspects of it don’t quite come together but Wendy has some exceptional images and it is unlike anything else in the fantasy genre at the moment.
Episode: #794 (March 22, 2020)